If you want a Samsung Galaxy Note II, know that you’ll get it on AT&T for $299.99 in just a couple of days, but before you do that, be sure to check out our video review below and the text review here. We are dealing with the mother of all phablets, the be all and end all device that threatens to sell millions of units till the Spring starts. This device is available in blue or white and it was announced at IFA 2012, at the end of August.
Basically, as far as design goes we’re dealing with a bigger Samsung Galaxy S III, but there’s more here than meets the eye. The back cover is very easy to remove and it’s made from a flexible and yet resilient plastic material. The phablet feels very, very slippery in the user’s hand, just like the S III before it. This 5.5 inch device also feels huge, even if your hands are plus sized, but in the end you knew what you were buying, so big is not an issue here.
What bothered me is that the stylus slot felt fragile and in the long run it feels like it may lose the S Pen from its holding place. Also, the back cover is pretty hard to totally mount back with all the plastic pins. As you can see, the device is very rounded, like the Galaxy S III and has the same layout of ports and buttons. We still have a front Home button, plus a touch Back and Menu button, while at the back we find a speaker and the 8 megapixel camera.
On the sides we’ve got the volume and On/OFF buttons, while at the bottom there’s the microUSB port and at the top there’s audio jack. Galaxy Note II measures 9.4 mm in thickness and weighs 183 and believe it or not it’s about the same weight as a Nokia Lumia 920, which is a bad thing for the Nokia. Inside we find an Exynos 4412 quad core processor at 1.6 GHz, compared to the same CPU at 1.4 GHz on the Galaxy S III. There’s also a Mali 400 MP GPU and upfront we’ll interact with a Super AMOLED 5.5 inch 1280 x 720 pixel display with Gorilla Glass 2 protection.
As far as storage goes, the phablet is sold in 16, 32 and 64 GB versions and it also comes with 2 GB of RAM. Samsung Galaxy Note II supports HDSPA 21 Mbps connectivity, LTE, WiFi, DLNA, Bluetooth 4.0 and NFC. It has an 8 megapixel camera with a stabilizer, 1080p video capture at 30 fps and a front 1.9 megapixel camera for videocalls. Finally, specs also include an accelerometer, gyroscope, FM radio, compass, barometer and a microSIM card slot, hidden under the battery cover with the microSD card slot.
Speaking of battery, this is a Li-Ion 3100 mAh unit, that offered us 22 hours of gaming, browsing, Bad Piggies, taking pictures and messing around with apps. And it takes just 2 hours and a half to charge the battery to 100% from almost 1%. So, overall an excellent battery and you can easily reach 2-3 days of usage with a smart management of the consumption. On the software side, we’ve got Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, complete with Google Now and that cool evolved notification bar.
TouchWiz is also here with its unique widgets, plus Hubs: Game Hub, Music Hub, Reader Hub and Learning Hub, as well as the Samsung Apps store. Moving on to benchmarks, we compared the device to other quad core hotties, like the Galaxy S III, HTC One X and Nexus 7. In Quadrant we scored 6002 points on the Note II, compared to the 5482 points of the S II, 4600 of the HTC One X and 3656 of the Nexus 7. In AnTuTu the Note II also ruled with 13k points, surpassing the S III by 4000, the One X by 2000 and the Nexus by 2000 as well. In NenaMark we scored the same 58 FPS as the Galaxy S III, while Browsermark generated 156 points, around the same value as the Galaxy Note 10.1.
Moving on to the multimedia side of things, we played some dubstep, messed around with settings and plugged in the headphones, all of these to come out impressed with the experience. There’s also a mood tool that choose the next tune according to your state of mind. Great bass, great clarity and huge volume, that’s for sure! As far as video goes, we were treated with one of the finest displays on the market. This 5.5 inch Super AMOLED screen offered great colors, very good brightness and even great sunlight behaviour, as well as good viewing angles.
The video player offers a pop up play feature, just like on the S III and there’s also the ability to zoom in the video and take a screenshot. As we move on to the camera, we find a very good sensor, that offers many options, like HDR (with two settings: Normal and Strong), panorama, burst shot, best pictures and quite a bunch of effects. We took the pics and videos, like the one you can watch below on a cloudy day and still we were impressed by the results.
There’s also an impressive photo sample below. HDR works just fine and the clarity and quality of the pics is impressive. Also when filming and zooming there’s no jerking of the camera even at high zoom and the pixels aren’t as visible as on other modern devices.
Now we analyze the software customizations again and in the notification bar upper area there are sliders for connectivity and other aspects of the phablet’s functioning. There’s also a Blocking Mode in the settings area, that reminds me of the Do Not Disturb option from iOS. Galaxy Note II comes with 50 GB of bundled Dropbox storage and preinstalled apps such as Flipboard, that will take care of your social networking needs. As you saw in our unboxing, the S Pen stylus we have here is capable of a nifty Air View hover, as it floats with its tip above the screen and offers a small round pointer to play with on the screen and see previews of pics and videos.
The S Pen supports 1024 levels of pressure and offers you the ability to clip stuff from the screen simply by keeping its button pressed and selecting what you need by circling it. Double tapping with the S Pen and button pressed triggers the mini S Note app, while keeping the S Pen button pressed and its tip on the screen takes a screenshot. You can also take a screenshot by slowly covering the screen with your palm and dragging it from one side to the other.
We move on to the most unique aspect of the phablet: its multitasking. The Note II allows you to alternate between apps and used them at the same time in a very cool way. You keep the back button pressed till a sidebar with apps appears then you use the stylus to pick one up and drag and drop it to the screen. There your screen divide into 2 segments: the upper one where you can check your email, for example and the lower one with the Google Maps or maybe the S Note. This means you can easily divide the screen and do 2 things simultaneously.
This multiwindow mode alone is worth checking out the Note II for a potential buy. There’s also a very nice quick command system, where you use your stylus to draw signs on the screen associated to commands. A question mark searches stuff on Google, while an exclamation mark looks for places on Google Maps. We’ve also got two cool voice assistants here, both the Google Now from Jelly Bean and S Voice from the S III. S Note is a fantastic app, the one that truly highlights the use of the new S Pen.
It supports very accurate handwriting recognition, the ability to solve Math problems via Wolphram Alpha, the ability to recognize shapes and patterns, draw tables and paste what you clipped from the screen. There’s also a very nice option with templates that are available once you write a word. Just write “dog” on the screen and various templates of dogs will show up, which is quite cool. Then there’s Paper Artist, an app that allows you to mess around with dozens of filters and effects and draw on top of them in real time with artsy effects and colors.
Obviously the Note II is also a phone, with great call quality and great volume during calls. What I should also mention here is te one hand use mode, that’s available in the settings and is able to move the virtual keyboard to the left or right depending on your use pattern. And now it’s time to take all of these into account and reach conclusions! But first, the pros and cons!
Here’s what we liked about the device, the pros:
- very good camera, video capture, effects and lots of options
- excellent battery (22 hours of intense activity)
- great screen in areas such as: viewing angles, vivid colors, brightness, sunlight behavior
- exquisite audio: superb bass, effects and volume
- lots of apps, especially S Pen related
- huge performance, both in benchmarks and real life
- runs Jelly Bean, always a plus
And the cons we found:
- the back cover is hard to completely snap on
- may feel too big in the user’s hand
- pretty pricey
- Learning Hub doesn’t work in all countries
- S Pen slot feels fragile
Overall, this feels like a big achievement for Samsung and we reward it with an 8.7 out of 10 for design, 10 out of 10 for hardware and 9.5 out of 10 for OS and UI, for a total of 9.4 out of 10. A truly excellent product, that should hit all US carriers soon enough. Don’t forget to check out the video review below!